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Struggle for Equality

Usha Ramanathan

Edited by Marjorie Agosin
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2003, pp. 352, Rs. 695.00


Exclusion, denial, non-recognition, invisibil- ity, demeaning: this vocabulary holds much of what feminists, and women’s movements, have had to surmount in their crest-and-trough struggle for equality and non-discrimination. Consider how “the traditional demeaning of women” works. “Over time, demeaning an individual or group—a common, often subconscious, technique used by one group seeking to maintain power over another— results in stereotyping and the denial of recognition of that group’s accomplishments or contributions to society. As the demeaning becomes customary, discrimination results, establishing a rationale for differential treatment of groups and individuals within the particular group. With discrimination the less powerful are deprived of their history, their self-confidence, and, eventually, their legal ability to function as full citizens or members of the larger group.” This is Arvonne S. Fraser in her essay ‘Becoming Human: The origins and development of women’s human rights’.   Writing under the shadow of the Taliban’s edicts, this and its companion essays harbour efforts to position women’s rights within human rights. CEDAW, and the Vienna Declaration of 1993, most memorable for its acknowledgment that “women’s rights are human rights”, are points of optimism around which many of the essays in this collection are situated. And violence provides the context for the battle to break through the public-private binary: for violence, even more than suffrage, birth control, education and the right to respect and non-discrimination, is easy for traditionalists in the human rights arena to identify with, except that “the individuals on whom the spotlight was now placed were women and girls” (Felice D. Gaer at p.100).   “Building awareness of the human rights of women begins”, as Felice D. Gaer says it, “with making them visible.” So it was something of a breakthrough when, in 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan, drew attention to “honour killings”……… (that) cannot be explained away by tradition or culture or dismissed as private matters; they are nothing less than murder” (ibid). It is also about recognizing violations of human rights. The face on the other side of recognition is denial. Domestic violence and sexual assault, especially that which has acquired the appellation of ‘acquaintance rape’, illustrates denial in almost every jurisdiction. This collection of essays represents an attempt to draw a temporal and spatial map on the emergence of women as a constituency for human rights. It is, in consequence, an ...

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